The biggest gain this year will come from improving my physical fitness, but there is definitely a lot to learn from a navigation stand-point; not only do I typically have 1-2 "major" mistakes per course, some of which cost more time than others, but I feel like I rely heavily on the more obvious features (trails, rivers and typical handrails) and often struggle with the more subtle techniques, which will hurt me on harder courses.
So in that light, I'm going to review my races, and evaluate my choices. Part 1, Mid-Atlantic Blue Course
Leg 1: happy to start my first race in a long time with a well-run leg (especially w/ race conditions where you see the map at the start; no studying!). Often, it takes me a few legs to find it, and it was a boost to run this cleanly.
Leg 2: And there's the first mistake! I went up and over a fairly large plateau, instead of tracking along it. Not only would it have been an easy handrail, there's plenty of room between the hill and the river. I may have been tricked by the yellow (easy running that was high grass, and not so easy), but I should have reconsider when I saw the 15-20m hill I needlessly climbed. (2 minutes behind)
Leg 3: short, so had to get too lost. I didn't use the creek as a handrail (smarter; top runners did) and had the quick decision of not knowing to turn left or right once I hit it; fortunately, I had counted my steps, lined up correctly, so I didn't overshoot, but still not ideal.
Leg 4: again, like leg 2, I run up hills I don't need to, mostly to find trails. This is lazy, and while not the worst, is some of the navigation mistakes that costs me. (5 minutes)
Leg 9: Longer leg, and subtle wrong direction to start running led me further afield. The flats south of the river threw me for a loop, so when I was looking up, I was definitely not sure where I was going. Fortunately, it's a giant catching feature, and I didn't screw up too much, but with the length, I still lost quite a bit of time (4 minutes)
Leg 11: too much trail running. This was a leg I thought about cutting, but honestly, my legs were already pretty tired at this point, and I felt I'd be faster on easier ground. With better fitness, probably would have cut. It was around this point where my lack of fitness reallly made me sad (not even halfway...)
Leg 12: felt good about this- not a very tough control, but read the hill correctly, and found it easily.
Leg 13: Got a little lucky, in that I hit the control right away coming over the hill. Need to be better at aiming off and then coming at the control (especially one with a handrail like this one) - only 90 seconds lost!
Leg 14: This one hurts. So many things. First - I lost 18 minutes on this control. So much hubris! I was definitely feeling confident with my navigating. Tricky thing for me was there are three valleys on the map, the control on the south side of the third, I obviously ran by the first thinking it was the second, and ended up running back and forth in the complete wrong place. The biggest thing was the other runners there. So easy to get caught up in other's race - such a good lesson in trust your self and pay attention to no one. Because the clues where there; how close I was to the houses; how many dry creek beds there were, etc. Only thing that I think was fair was that the "dry creek" in the valley actually had water (so did the third valley) and I anchored. Never anchor!
Leg 16: again, my legs not feeling great, I decided to take the long way on the trails. Probably would have chosen differently or at least looked, but when you're wiped you're wiped.
Leg 18: again - to the trail! Number one thing I need to work on, I think! It's helpful, but definitely will hold me back this year. On this short leg, not a huge deal, but definitely meant running up and down more than the top runners, who still had a hand rail in the hillside, AND a catching feature.
Leg 22: brutal leg at the end, up a hill w/o trail. I like how the top runners ran it, using the school as an intermediate catching feature and then coming west directly. I ran into some wrong controls and got lazy at the end. Definitely a crowded section of the map.
Totally different scale which completely threw me off at first. Easy first few legs, not in the woods. Leg 5 is the only one that I screwed up (but I screwed it up!) I don't even know how I ended up so far east and north, but I did. Missed the dry creek bed I was trying to find? Probably could have used the school nearby to check me, but just a total screw up. By that point, my legs were fried again, and the last few controls, not hard anyway. Rough race, and sorry to my partners!
1) Over-reliance on trails costs distance, elevation, and time
2) Major mistake comes from small problems that compound.
3) Fatigue affects navigation. Physical fitness is even more important.
Not sure when I can race next, but excited to see even with a few weeks of training where I'll be.